The C-segment market is getting more and more crowded today and buyers are now spoiled for choice. With offerings from Europe, Japan, Korea, and even Malaysia, each manufacturers are using different approach to woo in buyers into their brand. Mazda is banking on their soulful approach, where terms such as Soul of Motion, Jinba-ittai or ‘feeling of being completely at one with the vehicle’ (taken right out of the brochure, yes I’m not kidding), and even this special Soul Red Metallic paint featured here on our review unit of the Mazda3 2.0 SkyActiv Sedan was developed as part of Mazda’s Takumi-nuri (master painting craftsman) technology with a layer of ‘high-chroma red pigment’ embedded under the clearcoat. Sounds like Mazda is waxing lyrical about their product, but I’m sure that means they’re passionate.
This review unit here is the first batch Completely Built-Up (CBU) model imported from Japan as the local assembly is tipped to be in the near future. Being the only sole trim offered on this initial batch, this Mazda3 is weirdly-equipped as it’s lacking some of the creature comforts offered by its rivals, but at least it comes with traction control, Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), and six airbags as standard. Let’s check out what this new Mazda3 has to offer to take on the packed C-segment sedan category.
|Name||Mazda3 2.0 SkyActiv Sedan|
|Max Power||162 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|Max Torque||210 Nm @ 4000 rpm|
|Price||RM138,950.80 (OTR without insurance)|
By now you should be familiar with Mazda’s beautiful KODO design language which is now evident throughout most of the current Mazda range on sale here in Malaysia. The front greets you with a mischievous smile and the LED Daytime Running Lights (DRL) looks like a menacing pair of eyebrows on top of the Bi-Xenon lamps. A pair of round foglamps however look a bit out of place just below the turn indicators at the lower part of the front bumper.
From the tip of the headlamps there’s the prominent body line that arches all the way down towards the rear wheel. This particular line tricks the eyes into thinking that the car has a long nose and making it look like the cabin has been pushed backwards. There’s a crease on the lower flank that gently rises up towards the rear wheel while another shoulder line starts from the middle finishes off at the pointy edge of the rear lights.
The LED in the rear lights mirror the pattern of eyebrows from the front headlights while the stubby tail now has the numberplate mounted on the bootlid instead of the bumper on the previous Mazda3. Although it has twin tailpipes, it’s a shame that Mazda chooses to hide them underneath the rear bumper. Overall it looks like a Mazda6 that got shrunk in the dryer, which is not bad at all. It’s one of those cars that demands your second glance after you parked it and walk away from it.
The driver’s seat is where this writer likes to be in, but this Mazda3 splits opinion with the design layout of the dashboard. Don’t get me wrong, the build quality is solid with soft-touch plastic is used to cover the top part of the dashboard and the rotary knobs operate with quality feel. However, the seven inch touch-sensitive screen that sits atop of the center console looks like an afterthought, and the carbonfibre trim looks like a DIY job from a local accessories shop. Other minor niggles are the location of the start-stop button which is hidden behind the wiper stalk, the cheap-looking glovebox, and the blanked-out buttons and panels scattered around due to this particular specification currently offered here.
You get a centrally-located speedometer in the instrument cluster, flanked by LCD displays on each side. The left displays a digital rev-counter which is a tad too small while the right LCD displays vital information such as fuel consumption and distance to empty. It’s all very clean and clutter-free but for me it doesn’t really invoke the Jinba-ittai sense of oneness between driver and car that Mazda claimed to offer.
The driver’s seat adjusts manually and the steering adjusts for reach and rake so there shouldn’t be a problem to find your preferred driving position. The seat itself is comfy enough, especially when wrapped with the optional leather upholstery. The center console has been simplified where you can only find the Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) controls and a CD slot at the bottom.
All the other controls are now grouped in the new MZD Connect controller that controls the menu displayed on the seven inch Multi-Information Display (MID) screen. The MID displays the vehicle’s settings, fuel consumption, audio function, and even GPS navigation. You don’t necessary have to use the controller because the screen is also touch-sensitive.
The gearlever loses the gated shifter on the previous Mazda3 and gains itself a leather boot with red stitching. You still get Manual override option and the paddleshifters now adopts the common setup of left paddle to downshift, right paddle to upshift, instead of pull to upshift, push to downshift on both sides on the previous Mazda3. There are a couple of cup holders in the center console and a two-tiered cubbyhole under the armrest with a 12v DC outlet, an SD card slot, an Aux in port, and two USB ports. You also get a glass sunroof as standard which is always a nice addition to have.
Rear passenger space is decent and there’s a surprising amount of headroom available. You get the usual drop down center armrest with cupholders and there are ISOFIX mounts included as well but no rear air conditioning vents. The rear seats is splitted 60/40 so you can always fold them down flat if you find the 408 litres of boot space is not enough.
Mazda is boasting about their 2.0 litre SkyActiv-G powerplant with its high compression ratio of 14.0:1 which is said to have better energy extraction out of the engine. Personally I don’t find anything spectacular with that claim as it only produces 162hp @ 6000rpm and 210Nm of torque @ 4000rpm. However it is currently the most powerful car among its rivals but not by much.
The power delivery is linear and you will get the power gradually as you venture up the rev range. It’s a pretty buzzy engine but once you rev it up the redline it sounds pretty good. With this powerplant, the Mazda3 sprints from 0-100km/h in about nine seconds and top speed is in excess of 200km/h.
As mentioned earlier, the 2.0 litre SkyActiv powerplant is definitely not shy to prove its presence under the bonnet with the lack of under-bonnet insulation, it can get pretty loud at times. Together with the i-ELOOP technology, it will harvest energy from deceleration and stores it into a high-capacity Electric Double Layer Capacitor (EDLC). The accumulated energy then will be used to power the electrical equipment in the car.
The i-stop system works in conjunction with i-ELOOP, by shutting down the engine when stationary while the energy from EDLC continues to power the car’s equipment. Mazda doesn’t use the starter motor to restart the car but uses the combustion energy itself, claiming it provides smoother and quicker restarts but the result is still a jerky re-start. The outcome from all that techno-wizardry, you should be able to get 6.5l/100km but during my time with it I managed to get 8.3l/100km with mixed driving.
In town the ride is well-composed. With the 18″ rims and low-profiled tyres combo you expect it to be crashy on the potholed city roads, but it doesn’t. The Electric Powered Steering (EPS) feels natural as it doesn’t have that artificially light feel that some EPS systems tend to have. Traveling on the highway, you will notice the wind noise from those large side mirrors. At the maximum highway legal speed (which is 110km/h, should you need to be reminded) in top gear, the engine is only revving at 2000rpm but you have to maintain the throttle yourself as the cruise control is absent in this car. Slotted in ‘D’, the gearbox is always eager to shift up to the highest gear in order to promote better fuel efficiency.
If you want to hold on to a particular gear, you can move the lever to ‘M’. Work with the shift paddles behind the wheel and the gearchanges are fast enough in response to your input. On flowing roads it’s a sweet handling car with the 215/45 R18 Dunlop SP Sport Maxx provide more than enough grip to tackle the corners. The steering is properly weighted and the brakes performed well which makes the drive really enjoyable on the winding roads. It’s good to know that the Mazda engineers still hasn’t lost their mojo when it comes to tuning their cars’ handling.
At the end of your drive, you will get a summary of your driving from the MID, showing how economical was your driving and how much fuel was saved with the i-stop technology.
IS IT FOR YOU?
If you already own the previous-generation Mazda3, you might want to keep your current car. The previous Mazda3 was already a neat-handling car to begin with so you’re not missing out that much enjoyment from behind the wheel of the new Mazda3. Unless you really must have the latest SkyActiv technology under the bonnet, it is advisable to double-check the equipments sheet carefully to find out what you’re getting (or what you’re not getting) from the new Mazda3. I know it’s quite tempting to trade up when the new Mazda3 looks this good.
If you never owned a Mazda before, the looks alone might have convinced you already but might be put off by the equipment list. Those who value driving enjoyment shouldn’t be bothered by that and instead they should be heading to the Mazda showroom for a test drive.
It’s pretty tough to pick the nearest rivals for Mazda3 because there are so many contenders in this tightly contested C segment. So let’s compare it with the most ‘bang-for-your-buck’ Kia Cerato and the infamous Toyota Corolla Altis. The Cerato packs the best value for money hands down with the feature list so long it makes the Mazda3 look like an entry level base-spec car. It is also a pretty close match on power as well so it’s quite hard to dismiss this Korean offering.
The Altis is another competent rival, with brand faith and expected reliability, it’s almost a default choice to most buyers. Although the 2.0 litre engine is carried over from the previous generation, the engine itself is not really an old unit. Down on power and equipped with CVT transmission, it might not sound as interesting but at least it’s been kept up-to-date with the striking new styling and generous equipment (compared to what Mazda3 has to offer). If buyers can look pass the enticing offer of goodies from Kia and the generic-ness of the Toyota, they will be rewarded with a fine handling car in the shape of Mazda3.
|Mazda3 2.0 SkyActiv||Toyota Corolla Altis 2.0V||Kia Cerato 2.0|
|Type||4-cylinder direct injection petrol||4-cylinder direct injection petrol||4-cylinder multi point injection petrol|
|Type||Electrical power-assisted||Electrical power-assisted||Motor driven power-assisted|
|Transmission||6-speed SkyActiv Drive||CVT with 7-speed Sports Sequential Shift||6-speed Automatic|
|Type||MacPherson struts / Multilink||MacPherson struts / Torsion Beam||MacPherson struts / Coupled Torsion Beam Axle|
|Front||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc||Ventilated disc|
|Rear||Solid disc||Solid disc||Solid disc|
|TYRE & WHEELS|
|Tyres||215/45 R18||215/45 R17||215/45 R17|
|DIMENSIONS & WEIGHTS|
|Max Kerb weight||kg||1220||1300||1339|
|Luggage Capacity (VDA)||L||408||470||482|
|0 – 100km/h||sec||8.8||10.0||9.3|
WILL I BUY IT?
I love the way it handles but the price is such a deterrent considering how it is specced. If you can afford it you will love it but you may want to wait a little while for the CKD units to be introduced. They are usually cheaper unless Bermaz decides to keep the same price but throw in more goodies in the car.